Dates are Hard Enough.
Try it Legally Blind.
waitress set down my coffee and laid a pair of large menus on the
table. "I'll come back when your other party gets here," she said.
I entreated. "Would you mind telling me the salads?" I didn't want
to start off this first date by asking to be read the bill of fare.
flipped open one of the menus and held it up. "Here," she said,
tracing down the middle of a page. "These are the salads."
gesture was a blur of flesh against blankness, bringing to mind
other, more intentionally mystifying sleights of hand. A Lake Tahoe
blackjack dealer, years ago making conjurer's passes over the green
felt. A young hustler I once watched running a card scam from the
tattered rear seat of a 22 Fillmore trolley bus on a rainy winter
afternoon in San Francisco.
can't read that," I told her. "I'm partially blind." For a while,
I had tried saying, "Partially sighted," a glass-half-full euphemism
being promoted in the blindness community. But the fragile solace
of the phrase depressed me, and, requiring as it did a kind of logical
double-take to comprehend, it confused almost everyone.
felt the waitress sizing me up. She probably noticed the uncommon
tint of my glasses, a shade of yellow used by pilots, skiers and
people like me with eye problems such as retinitis pigmentosa to
enhance contrast. Maybe she noticed, too, that I wasn't looking
at her straight on but a little sideways, trying to work around
the gaps in my vision. Her face was a soft-focus portrait shot through
a Vaseline-smeared lens. For me, this was pretty good. If not for
the noon-hour sunlight from the window, I would have seen only a
cameo shadow of her head.
resolved that I was in earnest, she recited the list, a predictable
chain-restaurant selection: Chinese chicken salad, Cobb, Caesar,
small or large dinner salad of mixed greens. For this date, I could
have suggested a pleasant trattoria a few blocks from my apartment
with better food and a menu I knew by heart. But I had chosen this
place because it was closer to where Susana said she lived. And,
once I explained about my vision, she'd be impressed at how intrepid
and wide ranging I was, despite my only means of transportation
being the buses of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation
my sight had deteriorated in the last few years, so had my social
life. I became preoccupied with the falling away of capabilities,
the continual challenge of adaptation. I wasn't feeling like a very
good catch. And when I did get myself together and go out to mix,
low vision confounded my best efforts.
comes in mainly through the eyes. Noticing each other to begin with.
Reckoning by glances and body language, whether accompanied or not
by words, what we think of each other and what, if anything, we
are prepared to do about it. Now, unable to make reliable eye contact,
I miss the essence of seeing, knowing all the while that I am being
seen. Horrified by presentiments of even keener isolation yet to
come, I placed a personals ad in a local news weekly.
ad mentioned nothing about my failing sight. I wasn't bent on fraud,
I was just trying to give myself a fighting chance. Once contact
was made, I would disclose all.
were a few interesting phone conversations, a couple of uncomfortable
meetings at cafes. Then I heard Susana's message on the personals
system voice mail.
was a teacher. She read good literature. She even wrote, a little.
Her social and political values were not uncongenial to my own.
The odds looked promising.
I saw of Susana when she arrived--form-fitting jeans and sweater,
dark hair crowned by some kind of rakish little cap or beret--made
me think of better times. I was nervous. But the compatibility factor
seemed as strong as I'd hoped. And, thanks to the window light,
I managed to get through my salad without having to use my fingers,
even once. When the moment seemed right, I came clean.
it's not obvious," I began, "but I can't see very well. I have a
problem with my eyes . . ." "Go on," she said. "I wondered when
you would say something." As I elaborated, I tried to gauge Susana's
reaction. But she just sipped her water and said nothing, and her
face was too blurred to supply me with any nonverbal clues. To my
relief, though, the little that she said when I finished sounded
more sympathetic and respectful, even admiring, than pitying or
repulsed. Good, I thought. Maybe something was happening here. I
proposed we get together again soon, and held my breath.
she said, flatly. "I can't do that. I can't go out with you." I
observed that we'd been getting on nicely. Enjoyably. A lot in common.
Yes, she agreed, that was true. And I was a great guy, a man of
qualities. So what was it, I asked, fairly sure that the problem
wasn't likely to be my balding pate or my few badly sung bars of
an old Tito Rodriguez song. But I needed to hear just how she'd
have this fantasy," Susana said, "about what would feel right, the
next time I'm with a man. And what I imagine is long rides in the
car. Road trips. Down the coast to Baja. Or up to the Sierras."
I couldn't see where she was going with this. "Sure," I said. "I
like to do those things, too. Just because of this . . . " I gestured
toward my defective eyes.
the fantasy," she interjected, "it's not my car. And it's not me
that's driving. It's the man. And you can't do that."
I said, "I can't."
from the grab rail of a packed, home-bound bus, I wondered: Was
the woman simply a monstrous narcissist? Or had she brought to our
meeting needs and expectations even more acute than my own, found
me more appealing than I could tell and felt criminally betrayed
upon my disclosure of the RP, even though all she had risked was
coming out for lunch?
then again, I thought, this was Los Angeles, and maybe it was just
as she had said. Her litmus test of manly capability, failed. Where
the man belonged was behind the wheel. In the driver's seat.
week or so later, checking my personals messages, I was startled
to hear Susana introducing herself and inviting me to call, as if
we had never met. I found it inconceivable that she had done this
in ignorance, that my ad and voice greeting had set off not even
a trace of a memory. I wondered if her psychology might be so convoluted
that she wanted to reconsider but needed to set it up as an accident
so as to save face. I knew full well that this was a fanciful, desperate
conjecture, and, anyway, who in his right mind would want someone
that neurotic? I called.
it's you," she said. "I thought something sounded familiar." Like
a boiler room telephone solicitor, she had been making her calls
from a list she had compiled of intriguing personals box numbers,
with only the odd descriptive word or phrase as annotation to remind
her of details. Beside my box number may have been scribbled "loves
music" or "writer" or "works out," but apparently not "the half-blind
guy I had that lunch with." She had simply forgotten to cross me
off the list.
it was closure I needed, it was closure I got. I thanked Susana
for the explanation, wished her a good life, hung up and moved on.
Joel M. Deutsch Is a Los Angeles Writer
Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times